Many societies which have copied Western civilization in an incorrect manner are slowly but surely self-annihilating right now without even knowing it. The reason for this is seemingly innocuous, the environment. Rampant jettisoning of age-old traditions and unrestrained embrace of consumerism (without copying the necessary safety mechanisms) has led to a situation, gory and alarming.
The failure of NEPA means that Nigerians are left to self help in sourcing for energy. For industries, this translates to huge hydrocarbon-consuming power generating sets. The same is true, on a smaller scale, for many urban dwellers, that have to rely on small generating sets to meet household energy requirements. The environmental impact of these activities, coupled with millions of old and poorly maintained automobiles belching toxic fumes every waking minute of the day, is nothing but scary.
But don’t be scared just yet. The urban poor and rural dwellers who cannot afford generating sets also have their own way of sourcing energy: the cell batteries. Battery usage is good, even more environmentally friendly than burning fossil fuel. The problem arises after the batteries are spent. In the make-up of these batteries are heavy metals like Cadmium, Nickel etc. Exposure to these metals, even in small quantities, is extremely dangerous to human health. The effects include (but not limited to): brain, kidney, lung damage, harm to foetus, vomiting, increased blood pressure, allergy, skin rashes, dizziness, headache, nail deformation, fatigue etc. We all know the effect of these on life expectancy.
Most people in urban and rural areas alike simply throw away spent batteries along with other household waste. The effect of this is environmental contamination and concomitant human suffering. In the absence of a comprehensive waste management policy, despite the Federal Environmental protection Agency (FEPA), our milieu has surely become unsuitable for human habitation. Our penchant for electronic gadgets means that the pressure point is not limited to spent batteries but also articles like broken mobile phones, TV/VCR, fridges etc. In fact, there is a direct positive correlation between the amount of spent batteries and gadget penetration in the population.
Government has to wake up to its responsibility and put together an effective regime to manage these continuing environmental challenges. The failure of leadership here, like in many other areas of national life, is claiming lives in instalments. The damage already wrought will require many years to rectify. The good dimension here is that, unlike other malaise generated by our castrated leadership reality, the threat from the environment is very democratic and non-discriminating. Politicians and artisans, illiterates and literates, young and old, rich and poor, are all in it together.
A good place to start is to mandate all outlets purveying electronic goods to provide facilities for aggregating spent batteries and gadgets. This will form the basis of a recycling chain that will put a stop to random disposal of toxic materials. It will also generate extra employment and surely further the course of sustainable development. FEPA has to be rejuvenated and provided with necessary funding not only to formulate policies, but more importantly to disseminate information to the nooks and crannies of the nation so that everyone knows what is expected of them and can thus play a part in mitigating this clear and present danger.
In the absence of an effective emergency response and health management system, it is important that we do not shoot ourselves in the foot by continuing to expose our people to health wrecking environmental conditions. If we can do the little things right, the impact will be very big. Ultimately, the challenge to our environment is not limited to these issues. We must however start where the threat is most alarming and from there bring our policies and programs, step by step, nearer to perfection.